Last week I came across a news item that seemed, at first, second and third glance, surely to be parody, except it wasn’t: a yoga class for disabled students at the University of Ottawa was canceled because student organizers were concerned about issues of imperialism and cultural appropriation.
I’m not writing about this, however, to foment outrage. Yes, this particular situation is absurd, but I am so tired of absurdity and hegemony from both the right and the left. What struck me, instead, was what the instructor said to the reporter of the article (after she had made every effort to have the class reinstated, including offering to teach for free and to rename it “Stretching for Mental Health”). Here it is.
“‘The burden of being angry was lifted from me,’ she said. ‘Everyone already had that covered.’”
The burden of being angry was lifted from me. Everyone already had that covered.
Anger is important. Legitimate anger can be the beginning of change in the world. Suppressing anger is unhealthy. Denial is unhealthy. Both can be cowardly.
But anger alone is negative, and by itself can accomplish very little. Anger is also easy. We have access to so much anger now—others’ and our own. Being angry has somehow turned into people’s idea of action. I include myself here. Because we can broadcast our anger, because we can make it public and searchable and permanent (since the Internet is forever), it has come to seem daring and brave and enlightened.
Some people are very good at anger. Some people can channel it, combine it with reason, with empathy, and thereby effect change. Other people’s anger is less modified, more fiery, but if they truly welcome controversy, and have skin thicker than a shark’s, they also can wield that anger effectively. Somehow it doesn’t drain them, but instead energizes them.
I, however, am not good at anger. It’s not my gift. My own anger makes me tired, and so does other people’s. We are swimming in anger in 2015. Yes, there’s a lot to be angry about, but there always has been: there is nothing new under the sun. Has my own anger, publicly expressed, ever changed anything? I’m not convinced it has. Retweeting takes no bravery and less effort. Liking or not liking an article: ditto. Political arguments with strangers, reading the comments, finding someone I agree with on TV and nodding as they yell: less than useless. It only adds to the flood of anger, within me and without, and we are already drowning. And when I try to write about it, with it, at length–well, I haven’t found the trick to using it. Most often I, and my prose, start to go under.
So I am so grateful for that yogi, who had every reason for outrage, but moved right past it, and in the process gave me a new motto to cling to. I will let those who are better at it handle the anger. They’ve got that covered. That burden is lifted. How will I now use this surplus of energy, of hope?
And since it’s December, “burden” reminds me of something else, something beautiful. So, in the spirit of the season, here is some beauty–which in its own way is the opposite of anger. A raft to float on, in these high and dangerous seas.